|About this Recording
8.225811 - A, Kejian: Violin Concerto, "Hung Hu" / CHEN, Gang: Fantasy on a Sinkiang Folk Song (Takako Nishizaki, Singapore Symphony, Choo Hoey)
Popular Chinese Orchestral Music
Hung Hu Violin Concerto
The work for violin and orchestra, based on the folk-song “The Waves of Hung Hu”, bids fair to rival the “Butterfly Lovers” in popularity. In fact the melody from which the piece is woven is extremely well known in China. The song describes the view of the great Hung Hu Lake, in calm and in storm. The concerto sets out to mirror the various moods of nature in a rather ambitious form.
Chinese music is seldom abstract, and the present work is no exception. Like the pieces for piano, for violin, for various Chinese instrumental ensembles, and the popular choral piece, all of which bear the same title, and use the same melodic material, the Hung Hu Concerto celebrates the Chinese landscape. The work makes no great demands on the listener, but makes extreme technical demands on the solo violinist.
Much of the violin-writing is in a rhapsodic, improvisatory style. This is how we first hear the soloist, before the folk-song appears. Use is made of the high range of the solo instrument, and, in typical Chinese fashion, of harmonics. There is a contrast of mood from the stirring to the serene, and “The Waves of Hung Hu” appears in a number of forms, finally serving as the basis for a series of accompanying figures from the soloist.
Fantasy on a Sinkiang Folk Song
The composer of the Fantasy on a Sinkiang Folk Song, Chen Gang, is well known to Chinese audiences for his share in the composition of the violin concerto “The Butterfly Lovers”, one of the most successful and popular works for violin and orchestra in China to date. The title of the Fantasy promises less, but it is, in fact, a work of more general appeal. Sinkiang is part of Chinese Turkestan, and the melody on which the Fantasy is based has features which a Western listener might associate with the music of the Middle East, or of Spain.
The full resources of the Western orchestra are used colourfully, from the opening flute and clarinet melody, with harp accompaniment, to the fuller effects later in the work. The violin writing is idiomatic, and technically demanding, offering an effective variety from the first entry of the melody to the final moto perpetuo.
The Horse Cart
It is typical of modern Chinese music that it should base itself on the life of the peasant, and of the countryside. The present piece is no exception. It makes use of folk melodies, or thematic material that, like that of Dvořák, seems thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the country. At the same time there is an elementary narrative or pictorial element, suggested in the title.
This praise of the Chinese open prairie was composed in 1957. Like the Celebration Dance it opens with a festive air, followed by a pastoral theme, played by flutes and oboes. A new folk song is introduced, before the return of the initial melody, played now by strings and wind together. An energetic conclusion of the section leads us to a calmer part of the work. Two traditional melodies are matched, one against the other before the final section which has all the vigour and energy of the dance, a celebration of joy.
The Shanbei Suite was written in the spring of 1949, the year that marks the victory of Communism in China. The full suite is in three parts, celebrating, in the first, the local patriotism of Shanbei peasants, inspired by the proliferation of regional orchestras under the new regime. A second section dealt with the alleged defeat of enemies in 1947, and a third with the new China. The present recording includes only the first of these.
The piece is based on five Shanbei folk-songs, some traditional in flavour, and some suggesting legends of rather more recent origin. It opens in a peaceful mood, as the flute trills above plucked notes from the strings, and a clarinet adds its characteristic melody. A flute solo follows, establishing the idyllic setting of the music.
In a much livelier section of the work, which begins with an accompaniment on plucked strings, to which some typically Chinese percussion is added, wind instruments join the dance, before a Chinese instrument, the pan-hu—of the two-string Chinese fiddle family, but of extreme strength in its power of penetration—is added. The pan-hu is allowed to play with plucked string accompaniment, and then the flute introduces its own decorative figures above. Soon flute, oboe and pan-hu are celebrating the joys of Shanbei together. The music, after a moment of relaxation, gathers force for a final outburst, in which the percussion is as fully employed as the rest of the orchestra.
Celebration Dance is one of those eternally popular pieces of music, with a firm basis in the traditional music of the Chinese peasant. It starts with an energetic introduction, a series of ‘till ready’ chords, and then the strong theme of the traditional melody, with an unfamiliar waltz-lilt to it. The stressed rhythms of the introduction recur, interrupting the smooth flow of the melody, which soon reappears. The music is based primarily on a contrast between these two elements.
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